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Editorial: Abdication, enthronement rites should match times while regarding traditions

For the first time under Japan's constitutional government, the nation is preparing for the abdication of an emperor and the ascension of his son to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Issues that have now garnered attention are whether the ceremonies can be carried out in line with the Constitution, and in a style that matches the current times.

The government has decided on a basic outline for the series of ceremonies accompanying the abdication of Emperor Akihito. It has also been decided that both the abdication ceremony and the ceremony to mark the ascension of his son Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne will be held as acts of the emperor in matters of state.

Before the Meiji era, when an emperor abdicated the throne it was essential to issue an imperial edict in which the emperor stated his intention to vacate the throne. There have been fears, however, that if Japan followed in this tradition, Emperor Akihito could be seen as abdicating under his own will -- an expression of formal power not granted under Japan's Constitution. It was therefore decided that after the prime minister mentioned the abdication, Emperor Akihito would make a statement. This is an appropriate decision, taking into consideration the current system of the emperor being recognized as solely a symbol of the state and the unity of the people.

Additionally, the "Kenji to Shokei no Gi" ceremony -- in which the new emperor inherits regalia such as the sacred sword and jewels as proof of accession to the throne -- will be held several hours after Crown Prince Naruhito's ascension to the throne at midnight on May 1, 2019, so that the succession is not regarded as being carried out under the will of the emperor.

Some conservatives have called for the abdication and ascension of the new emperor to the throne to be defined as a connected series of events, but based on the purport of the Constitution, it is only natural to set some time between the two events.

The government has decided not to allow female members of the Imperial Family to join the "Kenji to Shokei no Gi" ceremony, in line with tradition. This decision is believed to have been made on the grounds that women who have no right to ascend to the throne should not be present at a ceremony symbolizing the transfer of the throne. At the same time, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was probably avoiding giving momentum to debate in favor of accepting reigning empresses and emperors descended from female imperial lines -- which could have resulted from allowing female members to attend.

The "Daijosai," or Grand Thanksgiving rite, in which the new emperor offers new rice to the gods for the first time with a prayer for an abundant harvest, will be held with public funds, as it was at the beginning of the current Heisei era. Japan has seen a series of lawsuits over the use of public funds and the attendance of governors and other officials at this rite, but the Supreme Court has deemed it constitutional. In 1995, however, the Osaka High Court ruled that suspicions of its unconstitutionality could not be flatly denied, leaving a degree of ambiguity. The government needs to provide a clear explanation to the public.

Seven Kyoen no Gi court banquets were held as acts of the emperor in matters of state at the time of the last enthronement. But such rich banquets using a huge amount of state funds are not appropriate in these times. Considering that they were a heavy burden for the then new Emperor and Empress in 1989, they need to be made as simple as possible for his son and daughter-in-law next year.

The imperial system has always adapted to match the times. To obtain public understanding regarding these rites, it is desirable to have them match the current era, while having regard for traditions.

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